Sleep deprivation is a pattern of sleeping where an individual fails to get enough sleep during the night. On average, adults need seven to eight hours, were teens and children need an average of nine hours of sleep to feel well rested (1). Numerous literatures expand on the topic of sleep deprivation and the effects it has on the human body.
This literature can be divided into three parts: 1) studies that show how sleep deprivation causes changes in learning, memory, and mood, 2) studies that show an association between REM sleep and learning/memory, and 3) studies that describe the various sleeping disorders and the treatments for them and strategies that can help. Changes in Learning, Memory, and Mood in Regards to Sleep Deprivation An article published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine states one in five adults fail to get enough sleep during the night.
Those who are sleep deprived show changes in mood, learning memory, and eventually see a decline in health. Symptoms vary, but the most consistent are anxiety, lack of motivation, and some level of depression. Individuals may experience lack of concentration and energy as well as fatigue, restlessness, lack of coordination and poor decision-making. Sleep deprivation had been associated with and increase risk for high blood pressure, obesity, heart attacks, and diabetes (1). Recent studies have explored how sleep and mood are significantly linked.
Trouble sleeping is identified by researchers to have an impact on mood and is one of the first symptoms of depression (2). Prior research done on sleep deprivation studied full time workers and concluded that workers who show signs of stress in the work place are more likely to have trouble sleeping (3). The same results are seen in people who study and work. They report their sleepiness worsens over the evening school hours. Results show the burden of college student’s carry when they have double activities, such as school and work (4).
Other studies describe the negative effects associated with low levels of sleep, which includes lower stress threshold, impaired memory, concentrating problems, and decreased optimism. There is evidence that the lack of sleep is associated with mental and physical dysfunction (5). REM sleep and memory/learning are associated Many studies have shown that REM sleep can be linked to memory, which is collaborated with learning. One study found that when one was learning something new, the amount of REM sleep was increased during the night, and when the new “thing” was mastered, the amount of REM sleep returned back to normal.
They also state that brain activity during sleep can be generalized across animals/species (6). Studies on rats have been conducted that link learning and sleep. Half of the rats were allowed REM sleep while the other half was deprived of REM sleep. All the rats were tested on the same maze over and over, the next day the rats that were allowed REM sleep were able to finish the maze, and get better times than the sleep deprived rats (7). People were also tested; they were tested on a series of recollection exercises.
The test showed little alterations in the data. Next people were tested on explicit memory and emotion connected memory, they found that those kinds of memories were better remembered in people who slept rather than those deprived of REM sleep (8). Learning has to do with increased theta waves. There is a study that looked at brain activity while the day progressed, then that night the brain activity was also looked at, they found that similar brain activity was replicated from daytime activity and was found during REM sleep (9).
The hippocampus and limbic system hold memories and learned information inside of them. During REM sleep, these signals are integrated into the brain where they can be organized and recollected later. Emotional memories are also better remembered than normal memories because there is an emotional link that can trigger the memory (10). These test and studies show that memory/learning is associated with REM sleep; these journals also state that there has not been a definite answer because there are so many other factors that can affect sleep, like sleeping disorders.
Sleeping Disorders and the Suggested Treatments and Strategies Sleep deprivation is, more often than not, considered a sleeping disorder. Some other common disorders include insomnia and sleep apnea (2). A sleeping disorder is a broad term that sums up all problems with sleep (2). These problems include: troubling falling sleep, staying asleep, oversleeping, and abnormal sleeping behaviors. What most people do not understand is that most sleeping disorders can be dealt with without any form of treatment.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the only sure way for an individual to overcome sleep deprivation is to get more sleep in a way that satisfies his or her biological sleep needs (1). The NHLBI gives several strategies for getting enough sleep, these include: consistent sleep routine/schedule on weekdays and weekends, avoiding strenuous activity an hour before bed, spending time outside or being physically active throughout the day, etc. (11). Addressing sleep problems on your own is the first step and usually makes a difference (2).
If better sleeping strategies do not work, then a medical provider can been seen to perform an evaluation and diagnosis (2). As this review demonstrates, sleep deprivation is a simple concept, but yet a serious concern for many people. Almost all sleep related problems can be corrected either through individual efforts and strategies or by prescribed medication in more serious disorders. Studies and experiments are ongoing to find out more and more information about why sleep disorders and deprivation occur. The causes are not yet fully known but hopefully will be someday.